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Plugged In: The Great Wind HoaxPrint

Clean Energy | August 23, 2012 | By Jim Dulzo

 

Did you know that wind power is a big hoax?

I’d heard dark rumors, but they were finally confirmed when someone said so, with great certainty, at a recent Traverse City Light & Power meeting. Turns out it was the same guy who threw lots of crazed charges at MLUI during the great 2010 TCL&P biomass blowout.

Crazy or not, his harangue marks the latest rhetorical leap for the windbagger community as they try to drive those big ol’ turbines out of Michigan and into the sea—although, mind you, certainly not into the Great Lakes.

It all started decades ago, when some people said wind couldn’t work because it’s too darn expensive. Coal power was maybe three cents a kilowatt-hour; wind power was at least 10 times that.

But wind power prices fell dramatically, so then came brickbats over birds and bats—thanks to the dreadfully designed, bird bass-o-matic known as the Altamont Pass wind farm. About the same time, flicker fright started up, too. 

So, when it became clear that cats were killing far more birds than properly sited wind farms ever could, and that flicker is a solvable trigonometry problem, the ‘baggers decided to bring up da noise.

That gradually escalated into dire warnings about ultra-low frequency turbine sounds ... you know, the ones so low-pitched you can’t hear ’em? Turns out, they make people sick! And if they don’t, then you still gotta watch out for what you can hear when the breeze is just right. That whooshing sound is very annoying, they insisted.  Annoyance is stressful. Stress harms your health. So, windpower harms your health. QED, baby!

Add recent accusations that turbines destroy property values and tourism and you gotta ask: Why would a just God ever allow those machines onto our good Earth?

The hoax thang popped up last week on our website, in response to my recent, twin articles about successful windpower development in Gratiot County. Those unabashedly positive stories quickly drew repeated attacks from folks like Kevon Martis, of IICCUSA, the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition USA.

Kevon didn’t say “hoax,” but he did say “faith-based energy masquerading as a meaningful energy source.” Because wind is intermittent, he argues, it’s useless for cutting the use of coal plants, which must always be left on, ready to fill in when the wind dies. He also trashed turbine tax incentives and said it’s cheaper to just switch to all natural gas generation, which has half of coal’s greenhouse gas emissions.

This from a guy whose website aggressively trumpets the names of people in a community who have signed pro-wind petitions or wind royalty leases, clucks about “at least one confirmed incident” of an illegal alien working on turbine construction, and cites a 2009 study claiming that developing clean energy destroys, rather than creates, jobs.

That last whopper’s from a study by Gabriel Alvarez of Spain’s King Carlos University. No mention, though, that the Spanish government, the U.S. government, Spain’s own jobs data, and The Wall Street Journal slammed the report’s data, methodology, cherry picking, lack of transparency—and conclusion. Now there’s a hoax!

No mention, either that the study’s author is a climate-change denier. He’s been funded by Exxon-Mobil and The Heartland Institute—the fine organization that put up a billboard comparing people who believe in global warming to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

In fact, there are a lot of parallels between climate deniers and windbaggers. Both say “hoax.” Both bring up new objections whenever old ones crumble before the facts. Both happily take advantage of how complicated their bête noirs are—filled with tons of interrelated, moving parts. Say something critical and half true about one little part, and then use it to cast doubt on the whole shebang.

I stopped debating climate deniers about a year ago. They always have another goal post to move and are stubbornly indifferent to what the best science clearly says.

It’s getting like that with windbaggers. Check their response to my two articles and you’ll see. After I answered most of Kevon’s and other writers’ initial claims, new ones showed up from all of ’em.

It’s quite a list: utilities lumped with fossil fuel extractors; dissing wind’s soaring efficiency; blaming wind, whose cost is plummeting, for Europe’s longtime high electricity prices; claiming wind power costs twice what DTE Energy actually pays; dissing wind tax incentives, enacted perhaps 80 years into oil, gas, and coal’s ongoing tax-break bonanza; ignoring wind tax breaks’ splendid success helping a new American industry scale up and slash costs; double-counting wind’s cost by including the gas generators that power up when wind fades; ignoring that farmers’ turbine income helps them avoid selling land to stay in business; lamenting that turbines drove a McBain family away (without naming them or their address.)

Wind is working better and getting cheaper all the time; it’s emissions-free; correctly done, it does no harm to land or people or wildlife and, in fact, helps protect all three. Renewable energy in the United States is in its infancy—and will be until we have a well integrated, nationally connected, smart grid linking all sorts of power sources.

If folks had used windbagger logic when our Apollo moon-shot program was in its infancy, they would have dissed John Glenn’s historic, 1962 sub-orbital ride. I mean, hey, it didn’t get us all the way to the moon, so what’s the point? And when, years later, Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind, they probably would have called it a hoax. Stranger things have, and are, happening.

Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s senior energy policy specialist. You can harass him at jimdulzo@mlui.org. Special thanks to Climate Crock of the Week video producer Peter Sinclair for the term “windbagger,” and to Jo Anne Beemon for a hot tip.